This seminal disc now almost seems like the manifesto for a whole new strain of minimalism that has found an enormously receptive audience. It represented a breakthrough for Estonian composer Arvo Part, whose music–like that of his European colleagues John Tavener and Henryk Gуrecki–pursues an austerely beautiful simplicity that suggests spiritual illumination. Fratres, given here in two versions, one for piano and violin and the other for 12 cellos, repeatedly intones a sequence resembling chant to convey a sensibility that seems at once archaic and beyond time. Violinist Gidon Kremer, for whom Part wrote the exquisitely contemplative and hypnotic title work, grasps the music's koan-like idiom, allowing an inner fullness to resonate through the most fragile, ethereal wisps of tone against the mysterious clangings of prepared piano.
The music of Arvo Part contains a message which appeals to the deepest spiritual needs of our time.Neeme Jarvi
Stephen Layton and Polyphony have a long and fruitful relationship with the music of Arvo Pärt. Their recording of Triodion and other choral works (CDA67375) won a Gramophone Award and became a cult classic. The extraordinary purity of Polyphony’s singing is the perfect vehicle for music of such clean, elemental simplicity, such cathartic calm. This third Pärt album from Stephen Layton and Polyphony reaches right back, intriguingly, to the composer’s youthful modernist phase and spans nearly five decades—from 1963 to 2012—in the process. As with the album Triodion, it reflects an increasingly broad spread of languages and sources in Pärt’s chosen texts. Latin, German and English are joined here by Church Slavonic and Spanish. A range of biblical texts are set alongside ancient prayers.
The symphonies of Arvo Pärt will surprise anyone familiar with his contemplative, mature style. Pärt began life as a member of the Eastern European modern school, not so far removed from contemporaries such as Penderecki and Górecki. His three symphonies show his gradual renunciation of the more radical aspects of his musical syntax, a return to emotional directness, and the beginnings of that otherworldly quality that has become the outstanding feature of his later work. Not all listeners have traveled the path with him, some finding his recent music tedious and pretentious rather than spiritual, and these three relatively early symphonies really do add a welcome depth and roundness of profile to a composer who can all too easily seem one-dimensional. It's important to keep in mind that, unlike so many members of today's pseudospiritual school of composers (England's John Tavener being the prime example), Pärt is a real composer operating even in the most mystical musings. Järvi deserves real credit for calling attention to this fact in such a powerful way.
In the winter of 2012/13, the Haus der Kunst in Munich – one of Europe’s most important museums for contemporary art – hosted the exhibition ECM – A Cultural Archaeology. The goal of curators Okwui Enwezor and Markus Müller was to show the range of the label’s artistic endeavours in music, graphic art, and photography and its creative interchanges with film, theatre and literature. For this exhibition, Manfred Eicher and Steve Lake created this box-set accentuating directions in ECM's rich musical history. Many themes and streams are touched upon here including the range of composition in the New Series, music for and from films, imaginative historical reconstructions, trans-cultural music, ambient minimalism, and jazz and improvisation of many hues, in a collection with a playing time of more than seven hours.
For all of those who look for early works of Pärt this is a precious recording. I believe there are a lot of people who don't find much appeal in Pärt's late repetitive, mystic works for the very same reasons others prefer them. So what's up here is that Pärt has a few lesser known works before, say, his third symphony which are the "opposite" of the mentioned above. Those who are found of Schnittke will surely appreciate this. The most remarkable composition in this record is maybe the "Credo" for piano mixed choir and orchestra. It consists of 13 minutes of duel between the forces of the past (represented by Bach's well known motifs) and the eruptive resources of modernist aleatoric clusters of sound. So, pools of beautiful passages are interrupted by (or combined with) destructive (or desconstructive) interventions of the orchestra till the whole, peaking sometimes the frenetic, becomes yet a powerful block of distinctive sound.